Like the boy who cried wolf, constant harping on the Man-Animal Conflict in my wildlife blog has literally landed a leopard on my doorstep.
I live on the banks of the Jehlum in the Shivpora locality of Srinagar, the largest city of Kashmir. The Jehlum makes an almost complete loop around it and only a small strip of land connects Shivpora to the adjoining foothills of the Zabarvan Range. Somehow a leopard has managed to overcome the obstacles presented by the barricades, the highway and the river to reach Shivpora.
A couple of years ago, it was a huge Golden Langur that somehow found its way into Shivpora. It caused a great deal of excitement among the local populace and once interrupted an improptu cricket match in my garden by trundling across the pitch carrying an enormous amount of pillaged vegetables.
A hungry leopard, however, is another matter entirely and mass hysteria is developing among the residents.
I have witnessed the amazing speed with which a caged leopard sprang at my younger son on a trip to Dachigam National Park. This leopard was sleeping on the far wall of its enclosure oblivious to the presence of a number of adult humans. Khurram , my younger son who was about six years old at the time, ran up to the walls of its cage, squeezing between me and an armed guard. In split second, faster than a heartbeat, the apparently sleeping leopard jumped down the wall, crossed the enclosure and sprang at him. The leopard collided with the chain-link fencing with an enormous crash and everyone who witnessed the attack let out an involuntary shriek.
I have never before or since witnessed such speed from a living creature. The cunning stillness before, the ferocity and speed of the actual attack, and the fact that the leopard was not in the least bit put off by the presence of a large number of adults around its intended victim still sends shivers down my spine.
I have learnt to respect and fear the leopard, and whenever we are on one of our weekend ventures, a low cough is enough for me to call off the adventure in that neck of the woods.